“Operation Minced Meat is also part of the James Bond origin story. One of the British intelligence officers behind this unlikely plan was Ian Fleming, who went on to create the iconic 007 character based on his own experience in the espionage industry. So if you’ve ever wondered about the inspiration behind legendary figures like M and Q, you’re in for a fun flash of insight. Charismatic actor and singer Johnny Flynn plays Fleming and provides the film’s dramatic narration, accompanied by the click of his typewriter, while the other members of his inter-service intelligence team do the real work at their hidden headquarters. But who could blame an aspiring writer for wanting to take notes? This material is too juicy.
Firth’s Ewen Montagu and Macfadyen’s Charles Cholmondeley lead a scheme to secure the body, dressing it up in military uniform and dumping it off the coast of Spain in the hope that it will be washed ashore with a briefcase full of intact forged documents. A million pieces, big and small, must fall into place to ensure that this disinformation falls into the right hands to deceive Hitler and break his army’s control of Europe. And, like any great heist movie, most of the fun comes from watching the players work on their plan. Here it means creating a fictional identity and backstory for their deceased vagrant that is so complete and hermetic that it won’t arouse suspicion. These brainstorming sessions between Officers Montague and Cholmondeley, clerk Jean Leslie (Kelly Macdonald) and secretary Esther Leggett (the lovely Penelope Wilton) are fast paced and lighthearted, but they also allow us to get to know these characters better as it becomes clear that they are not they are just playing a high-stakes pretend game. They pour their very real personalities, dreams and regrets into the fictional Captain William Martin.
They also make themselves vulnerable in a profession that is all about keeping you protected. This extends to the romantic ties that grow steadily between the widowed Jean and Ewan, who sent his wife and children to America to protect them because they are Jewish; early scenes suggest that the couple’s marriage was in danger anyway. McDonald and Firth have a sweet and light chemistry with a hint of the slightest bit of sadness and world-weariness. They are both great. But this developing relationship becomes more complicated as it becomes apparent that Charles also has feelings for Jean; Macfadyen is mostly stoic, but he can deliver a lot of ironic witticisms. And mistrust begins to bubble among everyone on the team as deception within deception emerges.